Jews in the News: Ben Stiller, Neil Diamond and Paymon Simoni

Two New (!) Movies, Diamond Shines at 80, and Dr. Simoni

“Locked Down”, a new comedy/drama film, began streaming on HBO Max on Jan. 14. The film has got decidedly mixed reviews, but most praise the chemistry between the lead actors. Here’s the basic plot: Linda (Anne Hathaway), a fashion executive, and Paxton (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a delivery driver, are a London married couple. They are about to divorce when the Covid pandemic hits. Harrods, the famous Brit department store, is closed due to the pandemic.  By coincidence, Linda and Paxton have access to Harrods while it’s closed. Linda knows that a very valuable diamond is in the store vault. The couple decide to steal it, but give half what they get to Covid charities. BEN STILLER, 55, has a smallish supporting role as Solomon, Linda’s boss.

Director DOUG LIMAN, 55, scored a coup when he got permission from Harrods (which was really closed) to film in the store (a first for Harrods) and he even cajoled them into letting them shoot in the store’s secret vault (provided they didn’t film anything that gave away its location within the store). Liman has helmed a number of hit films, including “The Bourne Identity” (2002), “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” (2005), and “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014).

“Palmer”, another new film, begins streaming on Apple Plus on Jan. 29. Justin Timberlake stars as Eddie Palmer, a football star whose pro career is destroyed when he is imprisoned. After his release, he returns to his hometown and things don’t go well until he forms a friendship with a boy whose mother abandoned him. While caring for the boy, he begins a romantic relationship with an African-American teacher. The supporting cast includes JUNE SQUIBB, 91, as Eddie’s caring grandmother. “Palmer” was directed by FISHER STEVENS, 57. He’s been a busy character actor since the ‘80s (recently appearing on “The Good Fight” and “Succession”). He’s also an accomplished director. I especially liked the acclaimed HBO documentary “Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds” (2016), which Stevens co-directed.

NElL DIAMOND, who turned 80 on Jan. 24, gave a long interview to “Parade Magazine” (Jan.10) and the news is surprisingly good. In July, 2018, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and immediately stopped touring. He now lives a comfortable life in an expansive cabin in the Colorado Rockies, accompanied by his wife and his dog. Unlike Linda Ronstadt, who also has Parkinson’s, his voice has not been affected by the disease. He says: “In a strange way, I think I am singing better than I ever have. It’s probably because I not on the road singing full-out and tearing up my voice…Also, I take my medication. I do my exercise and my workouts.”

Last November, he released “Classic Diamonds”. Diamond re-worked 14 of his biggest hits for the CD. He was backed by a symphony orchestra. He told “Parade” he is working on an album of completely new songs. Also, at Parade’s request, he selected his favorite seven hit songs. He included “America”, which he wrote for the 1980 re-make of “The Jazz Singer”. Diamond also played the title role, a cantor’s son who becomes a popular singer. He told Parade: “[The song] was the story of my grandparents coming to America for that freedom. My grandmother, ‘Bubbe Molly’ came to America in steerage….when she was 12, escaping Jewish oppression in Russia. My other grandparents had similar stories…It’s a musical expression of being free.”

PAYMON SIMONI, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, died (Jan.14) of Covid-19 at age 50. He was so prominent that “People” magazine gave his death a big write-up. (You might have seen Simoni on “The Doctors” TV show. He’s appeared in the last two years.)  Last month, he performed a “lip filling” on a patient. A few days later, she called his office and told them she had tested positive. Dr. Simoni caught Covid from her, despite following all the Covid treatment protocols (temperature check, wearing masks during the whole treatment). His death shows how scary and unpredictable the virus remains.

Simoni was born in Iran. On his office website, he proudly detailed both his medical and Jewish background. Here’s part:  He studied biology and Jewish history and philosophy at Yeshiva University. Yeshiva gave him a major scholarship and he graduated in 1993. During college, Simoni volunteered at a hospital and served as Vice President of Yeshiva’s Sephardic Club. He traveled to Tel Aviv as a peace volunteer during the 1991 Gulf War. He received his medical degree (1997) from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, a Yeshiva-affiliate and, later, was board qualified in two surgical specialties.


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